Leave something to be somebody else's problem

Leave something to be somebody else's problem

This was one of my favorite posters at Meta (formerly known as Facebook)'s office. I don't have a picture of it on my phone, so I found one from the internet.

I like to take ownership of problems that I run into, both at work, and in my personal life. When I see a problem, it bothers me until it's fixed, like a broken water heater. Two bytes in a database are corrupted? I want to know what happened and fix it. Caches are not consistent? I can't go to sleep until I fix it. Someone from another team has a design, which I think is sub-optimal? I need to "fix" it. Some system in an entirely different org is hitting a scaling limit? Let me help you devise a solution. My wife complains to me about her work and her day? There must be something I can do to fix it. My son tells me he doesn't like his counselor in the summer camp? I must do something about it.

I do it so often that it becomes muscle memory. Whenever someone shares a "problem" with me, before he/she even asks for help, I will start "solving" it for him/her. I would say to myself, "I am trying to help!", before other people even asked for help. Hence, it's not surprising that my behavior backfired many times in the past. My wife didn't end up feeling better after sharing her day with me. My son told me to shut up. At work, sometimes, I was not appreciated for going the extra mile to "help them solve" the problems.

This is Steve Jobs at MIT in 1992. He was asked the question, "what's the most important thing  you learned at Apple" –

Of course my son will tell me to shut up. Of course, my co-worker will not appreciate me solving the problem for him/her. I didn't give them the space to figure things out themselves. I was just trying to fix the problem like fixing a broken water heater. People are not water heaters. Not to mention that it's extremely arrogant and annoying to people to assume that I somehow can help fix other people's problems.

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means. – Kant

Certainly, there are times it makes a lot of sense to just help fix the problem as soon as possible, e.g. when your neighbor's house is on fire, the website is down, someone is being bullied, etc. But there are a lot of things in life that are not as time sensitive as a house on fire.

Going back to the poster – "Nothing at Facebook is somebody else's problem". Well, maybe we should leave something to be somebody else's problem, for the better.